Mounting repair bills are forcing a community organization in Labrador to temporarily pump the brakes on a low-cost ride-sharing program for senior citizens.

'We feel it's important to replace it." - Jennifer Hefler-Elson

The Labrador Friendship Centre has been operating the popular Seniors' Van ride service in Happy Valley-Goose Bay since the late 1970s.

But the van that the centre is now using has clocked 175,000 kilometres and repair bills for the past two years have been significant.

"We feel that it's just putting good money into a van that will probably need it again in the future. So, we feel it's important to replace it," said Jennifer Hefler-Elson, the executive director at the Labrador Friendship Centre.  

Jennifer Hefler Elson

Jennifer Hefler-Elson says buying a new van will save money in the long run when compared with continually having to pay for repairs to an aging vehicle. (CBC)

When the van is up and running, the program provides between 100 and 200 rides per month on average — more around tax season or when the weather is bad — at about half the price of a normal taxi.

Significant impact

The loss of the service for the past two months has had a significant impact on seniors, some of whom have come to depend on the van for everything from going to work to simply visiting friends and family. 

"I receive phone calls every day,"  said Jamie Jackman, a community outreach worker and the person responsible for overseeing the low-cost ride service for the past three years.

"It has a tremendous impact. I mean, seniors use this van for a variety of reasons. They go to medical appointments. It's access to the community, really. They go banking, they do their grocery shopping, they check the mail, they visit families."

'It's access to the community.' - Jamie Jackman, community outreach worker

The program began as a grassroots effort: Residents pooled their money to buy a car and volunteered their time to drive seniors around the community.

The friendship centre eventually took over responsibility for the program, using government grants and community donations to hire a driver, and formalizing the schedule so the service is available for a set number of hours each day from Monday to Friday.

At least, that's how it worked in an ideal situation.  

Showing its age

Unfortunately, a major engine overhaul kept the nine-year-old van on blocks for most of June 2016, until community members arranged to have it fixed by a local garage at a deep discount.

Almost exactly a year later, the van was again taken off the road and the service temporarily suspended due to a variety of maintenance issues.

Hefler-Elson said the centre had already set aside around $10,000 in donations, including from local seniors who avail of the service, in anticipation of the eventual need for a new vehicle.

While she was hoping such a major purchase could wait another couple of years, it appears the aging van has made its final stop. 

"It's important to have a safe vehicle that can transport our seniors — who are so important to us — to the needs that they require in our community."